Friday, August 29, 2008

Favorite Conversation of the First Week

Scene: Satellite L, ENG 100, Computer Lab.
The students are about to embark on an in-class writing sample.

Me: Ok everyone, let me know if you have any questions.

*glances over to Student's computer*

Me: Student, no myspace--turn that off.

Student: But Prof. Dochoc I need to listen to music to write. It helps me flooooowww *makes gangsta "flow" motion*

Me: I understand, but not when you're in a classroom with others who need silence.

Student: Oh no no Prof. Dochoc, it's ok! Really! I already talked to the people next to me...they don't mind.

Me: Student...turn it off.

Student: *reluctant sigh with a slight grin* Ok Prof. Dochoc....

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

High Body Counts in Critical Theory

Or, The Death of the Author, and the Critic, and, Well, Pretty Much Everybody

So, today in one of my classes we did a Roland Barthes hit-and-run, the kind of discussion where we touched on a point here and there without getting into the meat of the essay. Now, I’ve never been a fan of his ubiquitous
manifesto (1977, I think?), but not being able to get into it in class left me rather unsatisfied. So this may be a bit of a rant. For those who would rather not (re)read it, the essay goes something like this (but is much longer and more complicated and lacks my amiable tone and asides):

The voice that we hear as we read a text is often mistaken for the voice of the Author, but it is actually so many different voices, layered over one another (characters, narrators, and the various voices of the writer), that it is impossible to distinguish a single voice of the author. Since the author has no distinguishable voice, it is impossible to point to an interpretation and say, "this is what the Author intended." Thus, the traditional critical approach ("the Author encoded a meaning in this text; the Critic deciphers it") is rendered useless. This end to the myth of the Author’s… well, authority, is what Barthes means by the "death of the Author." Thus rendered obsolete, the Critic subsequently succumbs to a somewhat less publicized death in a garret somewhere. Tragic.

Writers, have you been under the impression that you have intentions or your work has a meaning? Nope, sorry, guess again. Since the language you use, the phrases and the ideas, are just borrowed from what you’ve read, heard, seen, and learned from the world around you, there isn’t actually any such thing as "self-expression," and you can’t control the innumerable meanings that are consequent to your use of language. Nice try.

By the way, this new way of thinking about writing is "properly revolutionary." That’s because to deny there is one fixed meaning in a text "is finally to refuse God and his hypostases, reason, science, the law." *

So, if a text is just a mish-mash of recycled meanings and images and ideas with no unifying meaning, and the author is dead, what comes next? Well, next we have the reader, who acts as a sort of receptacle for all these ideas. But the reader must be impersonal in order to comprehend all the elements and potential meanings of the text without limit or prejudice.

And I have to quote his conclusion in its entirety, because… well, just because:

"The reader has never been the concern of classical criticism; for it, there is no other man in literature but the one who writes. We are now beginning to be the dupes no longer of such antiphrases, by which our society proudly champions precisely what it dismisses, ignores, smothers or destroys; we know that to restore to writing its future, we must reverse its myth: the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author." [emphasis mine]

First of all, I think Barthes must have been a scientist in a past life, because he removes his subjects from their messy human contexts and dissects them entirely in the abstract. I suppose he’s trying to pursue a sort of pure theory or something. (What’s up with that, Humanities people? Why do we buy into this idea that our work needs to be framed in the language of labs and theories in order to seem legitimate? But that’s probably a rant for another day [or another writer- I know Twist has some experience in this area].)

Anyway, after all that trouble to sound scientific, it’s rather jarring when he leaps into this rousing speech at the end. It leaves me with the vague sense that I’ve been challenged to join some sort of battle. But, like an outsider watching Don Quixote posture against his imagined enemies, I really can’t tell what all the saber-rattling is about, or what the real point of all the theory has been.

I do understand what he’s getting at. Traditional criticism is based on a misguided distribution of power. The Author isn’t the source of Truth, and the critic’s job is not to decipher the meaning of a text. Meaning happens in the reader.

The problem is, his ideal reader is an impossible theoretical construct, impersonal and capable of comprehending all meanings. S/he does not exist. Barthes’s revolution does not privilege the reader (the real person reading); it privileges the text. "It is language which speaks, not the author; to write is, through a prerequisite impersonality… to reach that point where only language acts, ‘performs’, and not ‘me’," he writes. Language is the only variable in his equation capable of pure existence; the text is only space in which all its potential meanings can be held, because it has not been limited by the intentions, assumptions, and prejudices of actual people.

And, since I’m not much for lab work, actual people are the ones who really interest me.

*This acknowledgement that these principles have implications for existing power structures is as close as Barthes gets to practical application. There is a lot of potential for applying his ideas about authority, criticism, the role of the reader etc to the politics of the literary canon, among other things. But he doesn’t go there; he remains firmly planted in the abstract.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

This is the Part of My Life I Call "Meeting People Who Won't Be My Friends"

Or, starting grad school, part I.

A fine tradition in many academic communities is the annual welcome party, designed to introduce new graduate students to the old ones, those folks ranging from the "young and idealistic" to the "is that my 30th birthday rapidly approaching?" We new grad students look forward to this kind of thing, hoping to make a friend or two in the sea of people in this enormous university. We don our spiffiest duds, spending time negotiating the fine line between "too dressy" and "not dressy enough" so that we might make our best first impression.

I should interject with my first lesson of my grad school career: when the host of said party tells you to bring a drink, you might want to consider something along the lines of beer or cheap wine. Not orange soda. You'll be the only one walking in with your 2 liter bottle of bright freakin' orange beverage, and you might feel, well, a little silly. Time for a paradigm shift, kiddos.

So. In order to make this a successful welcoming party, you are as nice as possible and engage all kinds of people in conversation, no matter how shady they might look. You smile, introduce yourself, and listen carefully to what they have to say. It's a given that in any social group there will be some bad eggs. Here I present lesson #2: beware of the bad eggs.

I got stuck with four bad eggs. FOUR! [Well, #4 has since redeemed himself] Avoid these kinds of bad eggs:

Bad egg #1: The Traditionalist
This young scholar has a thing for Milton, which is fine, but be very careful when trying to joke in any way with him. He doesn't like jokes, especially when they are about Milton. He'll get offended. After discussing our particular research interests, The Traditionalist said to me, "you know, I just don't like Composition Theory." Thinking, "ah ha! Time for a joke!" I said, "Oh, that's okay, I don't like Milton! We need some of each of us in this world." He looked at me with a wide-eyed, deer in the headlights expression and sputtered, "what?! Do you have some sort of crazy feminist bias against Milton?!" Crazy feminist? Did he just call me a crazy feminist? Oh, the blood begins to boil...but no! No blood boiling is allowed at such parties, because one must be on their best behavior. So I made nice with him. ["Next time, Gadget, next time..."]

Bad egg #2: The Conservative
This mature scholar has a thing for lecturing, which, you know, whatever. Do your thing, man, do your thing. However, he also has a thing against alternative methods of teaching, and began to inform me just exactly what is wrong with the work of Paulo Freire. Now, I don't mind if you disagree with one of my favorite dead people in this world, but at least have a good reason. Saying, "oh, if I lecture, Freire says that I am an oppressive monster who is taking away the humanity of my students in the interest of serving the fascist regime" does not fall under the category of productive discourse. So I just ended the conversation politely by excusing myself and saying that I had to *mumble mumble* nice talking to you *mumble mumble* See you around *mumble mumble*

Bad Egg #3: The Racist, Who Only Confirms Your Prejudice Against People from the South
And his wife, too. I discovered that I actually live quite close to this young couple from Alabama. I got really excited! We're neighbors! We can do neighborly things together! Like...borrow sugar! That kind of thing! But no. No, I will not borrow sugar from them. He asks, "so, do we live in the ghetto or something?" I tried to pick my mouth off the floor as I replied, "Um...excuse me? I'm not sure that I understand you." "Well," wifey says, "some of the houses around us look rather run down, and it's just the people who live there...I don't know. There are lots of minorities, you know what I am saying?" So I was horrified, but was still very polite and said, "you object to living where we are because of the...African American...population?" All she said was, "well, it's not what we are used to." Umm. Another instance to quickly think of a get away excuse. The poor folks. How did such a lovely white couple end up HERE? Poor dears. [And for the record, the neighborhood is not run down. I don't know where the hell these people lived before...]

Bad Egg #4: The Inebriated Creative Writing Student
Pretty self explanatory. He nearly fell on me when trying to introduce himself. This child is now one of my office mates, and we have desks right across from each other. He has since redeemed himself, so there's no urgent need for me to totally avoid him. Unless he keeps up the subtle flirting. Then we've got a problem. ("Sorry dear, but I happen to be totally in love with Teacher Poet, and you just don't compare. I'm sure her poetry is better than yours anyway...")

In the next episode: "This is the Part of My Life I Call 'Orientation,'" a segment in several parts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

And I Shall Call Thee...

...Professor Coffee Beans!


Monday, August 18, 2008

Happy, Happy, Disconnect: see subtitles

Button Up Your Geek!
As I left the Education Building and danced my way over to the English Building the thought crossed my mind that most people, if they knew the reason for my elation, would yell, "button up your geek!" But that didn't stop me. I took the stairs two at a time and knocked on Mrs. Awesome Assistant's door with a huge smile on my face. I opened with, "Guess what I found out today? My student teaching placements!"

Her eyes widened and she humored me, "Ooh. Where are you going to be?" That's one of the things I love about her, she isn't just humoring you. She cares. And, of course, I told her and she was happy for me. Then I went straight for Dr. Rhetorical Action's office. I had to tell him! I was, after all, in his office when he got the phone call that his book was finally and completely ready for print. He would understand, is what I'm saying. So I said, "I know my placements! They don't tell you until December but yadda yadda yadda and I had to talk to the Field Experience office about it so blah blah and they told me where I'll be placed!"

Now you have to understand something here. Dr. Rhetorical Action's blood is made of, well, Life or something. When he laughs, it carries down the entire hall. And when you hear his laughter, you can't help but smile and walk with more spring in your step. Yeah, he's awesome. (And, shoot, he's probably reading this but I don't care. It be a true account.)

So I totally gushed and told him, "I'm placed at Cream of the Crop Middle School! And, it gets better: Small Town High School!!! Ahh, this is totally what I want! This is... Well, this is exactly the sort of placements I've been talking to [my mentor] about wanting to have all along! My mentor rocks! The practicum teacher rocks! Yay!"

Bag of Books
Then I got to have a nice chat with Dr. Rhetorical Action. Such dialogs always prove
1) refreshing
2) engaging
3) inspiring
He also showed me the books he's going to send to Rhetorical Twist. His hot-off-the-press book is included in the stash. I looked over the titles and none of them are already on Rhetorical Twist's bookshelf. She will be very happy when she receives them, let me tell you! It'll be a kid at the candy store sort of reaction. Oh, man, it was a great day.

Parental Units
When I told my dad about my placements he was, of course, very happy that I was happy. I love my dad to pieces. (I also love my mom to pieces, in case you were wondering.) But sometimes... there is a disconnect.

I explained to him how I'm glad I'm placed at Cream of the Crop MS because it should be a good experience. However, I would never apply to Cream of the Crop School District because, well, I dunno, the students' allowances happen to be more than my salary would be! The price tag on their cars, too. Something tells me that I'd be dealing a little too much with concerned parents. By concerned I mean, in this instance, parents who make so much money they think they can bully a teacher into changing grades because they earn too much salary for their child to get a [insert B, C, D, F] on the paper/test/report card. Yea, thanks but no thanks. My father, on the other hand, did not hear what I said. Okay, let me rephrase that. He heard, all right, but he didn't understand what I said. His response? "A job is a job." So I said, "Right. But why would I apply to a district that I had no desire to teach in?" Teach, that is. I have plenty desire to student teach there. It's different, don't ask.

Then there's the part about how everyone seems to apply to that school district. In other words, Cream of the Crop also has its pick of the cream staff. "You don't have a 4.0? Sorry." I don't, by the way, have a 4.0. What does my dad say? Well, there's what they want to hire and what they will hire." Um, hello? Did you just hear what I said? Green teachers flock to apply at Cream of the Crop. Teachers teaching in other districts repeatedly apply to Cream of the Crop. FOUR POINT OH. This isn't the sort of situation where they say, "we want 4.0 graduates" and then hire someone with less than that because they already have a kazillion 4.0 applicants for one position. But, whatever. It was just a small disconnect. He was very happy that I was so stoked, and probably rather proud that I'm so excited about my vocation. At any rate, unless I had an absolute ball while student teaching at CCMS and was offered a job before I left student teaching, I can tell you this: I won't be applying.

My eye finds Small Town High School (and its ilk) much more pleasing. That's just how I am.

Oh, yes. It didn't take long before I text messaged the love of my life about the good news, either. That's right. You get your own photo!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I'm Stuck. Help?

Hello my fellow academics.

I'm sort of stuck on some fun/interesting classroom ideas for both a Cause and Effect essay, as well as an Analogy essay (although I do have *some* ideas for the analogy essay).

Any thoughts?

I'm looking for anything that will interest the students and keep them actively engaged during the discussion of these two types of rhetoric.


ps. Ew, I don't like this color.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

No, I have not fallen off the face of the earth...

...not yet, anyway.

So as my face is about to hit the keyboard with exhaustion, I thought I better blog to my fellow bloggers and let you all know YES, I AM STILL ALIVE.

Approximately one week's be exact--three days ago I was doing well. My syllabi were finished, perfected, and were giving off a slight glow from my bedside in deep anticipation to make their debut in two weeks.

But then IT happened. As I was smiling and skipping around in a nonstressful manner at my place of PT employment, my phone rang.

"Hi Kayla this is 'Satellite-Campus-LU-I'm-10-Minutes-From-Your-House,' would you like to teach 3 courses for us this fall?"

For a brief moment, I stopped and thought you SOB...I've WAITED for you to call all summer, and now I'm traveling hours way just to teach!! But then she said something that I couldn't refuse:

"For some reason 'Satellite LU Main Campus' didn't send us down your resume until now, and you're EXACTLY what we're looking for with you being so close. Actually, if you're interested, and if you can help us out in this dire need this will get first priority of classes from here on out until you decide you don't want to teach here anymore. I can promise you four classes every semester and two or three in the summer."

And that's where I gave in.

Prayers have been answered. I can barely afford to drive the distances I'm driving just to gain experience--but as someone wise once said, "Welcome to the temporary adjunct part of your career."

When it comes down to it, I realized that I need to do what I need to do. So here I am: a first year teacher who is about to embark on a 7 course load semester. Is it going to suck? YES! But once I get through these 15 weeks, I'll be so excited to be driving only 10 minutes away next semester.

And besides...I'm resilient (at least that's what I've been told time and time again). And I figure, if I can complete a full Master's program in 3 semesters, and also work a job for 10 months where I was working nearly 70 hours a week....hmmm I can do this. Right? (And this is where I need excessive amounts of encouragement).

However, on a completely different do I handle teaching someone I graduated high school with and have hung out with multiple amounts of time? I'm finding this situation soooo weirddddd.....


Why does Twitter keep attributing feeds to the wrong person? LA's stuff keeps showing up as Twitter feed from Rhet. Stupid Twitter. Glad I didn't get it-- people would have thought I watched the batman movie! :-P


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Contributors: We Are Distinctly Four

An intriguing conspiracy theory was just brought to my attention. (Okay, so maybe "conspiracy theory" is an exaggeration.) I was asked if ARC was just the work of one person writing under different names.

The answer is, no way! This blog does indeed have four separate contributors. DocHoc, Lady Audley, Rhetorical Twist, and myself are different people. We do happen to be good friends and so shared interests, ideas, and pedagogical approaches may reveal themselves in our posts.

I hope that, over time, readers will come to know our differences more clearly and feel free to share in the community we've created here. Join the dialog! We're just starting out and the conversation could use more voices.

Thanks for reading,
Teacher Poet

P.S. Teacher Poet is eagerly anticipating posts on how the refrigerator died and killed all the veggies; that lingering unpleasant odor in the new flat; sketchy wireless; explorations in the new surroundings of City U. and Cornfield U.; more on the syllabus from Doc Hoc and Rhetorical Twist; and the promised bit about plagiarism from Rhet.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hotels Reintroduce "Women-Friendly" Rooms

This entry is in pink, because pink is the color of women, right? *wink*

I recently saw an article on Yahoo! about "Women Friendly" floors in hotels. Apparently, "Women Only" floors were first introduced in the 1980's to provide "a safe haven for women traveling alone on business but ended up being considered 'a kind of sexist thing.'" Now, the revival of these kinds of floors aren't completely closed off to men. Men can still book rooms (of course, the policy on when seems to vary from hotel to hotel), but, according to Bill DeForrest, these rooms are simply designed to cater to the needs of women travelers, who are growing faster in numbers than male travelers." They also apparently want to "go the extra mile to make women seem welcome." Yeah, okay. That's another blog entry for another time.

So, how do these floors/rooms for women differ?

It seems that the difference lies in the services and amenities offered. One hotel offers a Victoria's Secret robe and vanity mirrors. The Hampton Inn in Albany offers "cookies, flavored coffees, skin moisturizers and extra-soft socks, plus a half-hour session in the hotel’s massage chair." Another hotel offers yoga mats, bath salts, and wash mitts.

What is most interesting to me about this new development, or "niche market," as the article calls it, is the gender encoding that takes place. How do they decide "what women want"? What makes these amenities particularly good for women? Aside from the issues of whether or not you think this is gender discrimination (and therefore a step backwards), there is the issue of how these things, by being labeled "for women," further ingrain gender difference. What, for example, do the specific amenities offered say about the hotel's (or society's) opinion of what women care about? Do all women care about moisturizers, cookies, vanity mirrors, and fuzzy socks? It's the rigid binaries used to label things "for women" or "for men" that bothers the hell out of me because of the way they perpetuate gender difference.

(Editorial note: Granted, I care an awful lot about cookies, but I also know a guy or two who would care about fuzzy socks. Hell, I care an awful lot about fuzzy socks, too, but maybe I want a hammer in my room as well. Or a drill. That might come in just as handy.)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Teacher I'm Soon To Be: A Thoughtful Reflection

So as I was editing the last of my syllabi for the upcoming semester, something so simple, yet profound struck me--I thought I'd share.

Yes, I'm an individual with my (soon-to-be) own teaching style, philosophies, and pedagogy; however, I'm an academic individual who has been shaped by the professors in her life.

Please allow me to stand at my podium, por un minuto, to share a few thank yous to the professors that have influenced my teaching style.

This list will certainly define the teacher I've become:

  1. A thank you to Dr. Mother Bear: The passionate aura you always had for your students, the crazy fun class activities--Descriptive Narrative Mysteries--good times! And again, I repeat, PASSION PASSION PASSION.
  2. A thank you to Dr. Chocolate Chip Cookies: The craziness of Deadwood. CUT THE DEADWOOD! Oh, not to mention Annie Dillard will live on forever--aka forever in my classes.
  3. A thank you to Dr. Poet Lady: The challenges never ended. And through you I met the love of my life: W.C.W.--and now my students will learn to love "The Red Wheelbarrow" as much as I do. Not to mention the poetry section in my Lit. course has been strongly taken over by those Modernist Poets...hmmm, I wonder why :)
  4. A thank you to Dr. Hambone: Renaissance Lit. has and will never be my cup of tea, but I can't lie--I learned to appreciate the language. Although I know how we feel about Shakespeare, my students will learn a piece of Othello so that they can learn to appreciate the beauty in Renaissance language as much as I have.
  5. A thank you to Dr. I Love Your Son: No one likes group work, especially when you're the person that ends up doing all the work; however, collaborative learning will be a big part in my classroom because she stressed, time and time again, the importance of group work.

While they're only five examples, I can only smile as I look through my syllabi and see the activities I planned based on the teachings of the people who've come before me; I've come to realize that it's professors like these that create legacies.

So, who am I?

I am a culminated experience of professors that have come before me--shaped, molded, and perfectly prepared for this big, bad teaching world.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Road to Grad School is Really Long

For your entertainment, I present: the trip log. It's rated "L" for really long. But fun, too. In it's own long way...

8:30am--Rhetorical Twist collects Teacher Poet and says good bye to the adorable doggies.
9:00am--official time of "hitting the road."
10:45am--first rest stop. Rhetorical Twist and Teacher Poet have a thoroughly disgusting meal of greasy fried chicken and a rat burger at Roy Rodgers. Both vow to never eat there again.
11:05am--Rhetorical Twist and Teacher Poet are informed that Lady Audley and family will be late to the meeting place. Time wasting commences.
11:10--bathroom break, where we find out that for 35 cents you can find out your weight and lucky number. Quite a bargain.
11:16--Teacher Poet gets a soda and chooses rootbeer. Rhetorical Twist disapproves. She would have chosen cherry coke.
11:39--Teacher Poet successfully moves the seat back a whole inch, despite the jam-packed nature of the car. She's much happier. Time killing continues...
11:51--Rhetorical Twist brings the smack in the form of an (inaudible) comment to Teacher Poet on a woman who cut her off and then glared. Teaching is looking easier.
12: 30ish--arrival of Lady Audley and family, as well as the subsequent official beginning of the road trip. Rhetorical Twist is put in charge of navigation. She has no sense of direction and is bad with maps.
4:00pm--Rhetorical Twist gets very nervous when she sees the "Welcome to W. VA" sign, as she thought they were just going straight to Ohio. panicking ensues, peppered with many cries of, "if we took the wrong route, Lady Audley will never let me live it down!" Consults map and realizes it's all good.
5:00pm--stop for dinner. Discover chains attaching Lady's Audley's trailer to the van have worn through. Call U-Haul. Wait 45 minutes. Spend the time goofing around in the convenience store and befriending a state cop as the boys Audley try to buy liquor underage.
6:00pm--Rhetorical Twist begins to develop a hate for Ohio just because of it's huge size. Stupid Ohio.
7:00pm--deeper hatred for Ohio.
8:00pm--still deeper...
10:30pm--hit Indiana border. For the next 83 exits, every time Rhetorical Twist sees a hotel she thinks, "they have beds..." She promises to talk to Teacher Poet to keep her awake, as she has taken over the driving. Within 5 minutes, Rhetorical Twist is dozing off.
12:30am-- arrive at skeezy hotel. Must change to a new room. Disgusting beyond all belief.
12:35am--Teacher Poet says, "get your bags off the floor. I don't want to know what's crawling around down there." Rhetorical Twist screams.
1:15am--Rhetorical Twist hit with uncontrollable giggles. Lady Audley and Teacher Poet are ready to kill her.